Till next time, Venus! See you in a hundred years!
A transit of Venus occurs when Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun, producing an image of a tiny black disc traversing the Sun. It's much the same as what occurs during a solar eclipse, except that as Venus is so much farther from the Earth as the Moon is, the area it obscures appears so much smaller.
In 1639, astronomers Jeremiah Horrocks and William Crabtree confirmed and corrected the predictions of Johannes Kepler as they observed the Venus transit from England. As a result of their work, they are considered two of the three founding fathers of British Astronomy.
Transits of Venus are rare, with only two transits occuring each century. The pattern of occurence happens in cycles of roughly 243 years, with a pair of transits occurring roughly 120 years apart, with each transit in the pair happening roughly eight years before the other.
A transit was set to occur on June 6, 2012, with the first of this transit pair having occurred on June 8, 2004.
This year's transit was the last of a lifetime, if you're human. On the off chance that you're immortal, you might conceivably view the next venus transits in December 2117 and December 2125.
So we hied off to Daet, Camarines Norte to view the Venus transit under the auspices of the Science Education Institute (SEI) arm of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), who had set up an observation post along Daet's Bagasbas beach.
As explained to us, what makes venus transits such a big deal is that, through observation of the venus transit and application of trigonometry, calibrations of astronomical units of distance measurement were formalized to a reasonable degree of accuracy and precision.
Knowing this, then, we steeled ourselves to wake up at the crack of dawn in order to view the moment of first contact at 6:12am.
Walking down the inviting albeit dark-sanded Bagasbas beach, we noted what seemed to be a new species of sea goat tethered to the beach. We also noted a rolling surf swell and made a mental note to surf in a bit.
As we reached the observation post, we noted the presence of several gawkers milling about the powerful telescopes set up on the beach's lifeguard tower. There was also a handful of surfers taking advantage of the swell. We resolved to join them after working a bit covering the transit and taking a few pictures.
At 6:12am, a buzz of excitement went through the SEI team. First contact (between Venus and the sun) was about to take place! We peered through one of the telescopes and beheld a tiny dot making its way across the sun's lower bout.
It was as if the sun had grown a mole, a thought some kida echoed a bit later.
Being familiar with Nora Aunor's ouevre', we're rather used to the sight of moles on stellar beings, so visually, the Venus transit was honestly a bit of an anti-climax. But as we were billeted at a rather splendid beach resort and amid wonderful surroundings (the sun, the beach, the surf!), we were still stoked at our assignment.
Besides, the thought of bearing witness to a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event was rather thrilling.
Speaking of kids whose banal thoughts echoed our own, the SEI/DOST had sponsored a bunch of underprivileged kids and brought them to Daet to view the Venus transit. They were, in fact, at present on board the DOST's Science Explorer bus for a lecture on astronomy in general and the Venus transit in particular.
These kids were brought to the observation post to view the transit's second contact at around 9:20am, by which time we were already surfing. We did, however, overhear a few of the kids comment, "Ang laki ng araw, 'no? (The sun's huge, isn't it?)"; and, "Parang nunal lang! (It just looks like a mole!)".
Then we were off to hang ten for a bit. Cowabunga!
While surfing, we reflected on the significance of the event we'd just witnessed.
Something about heavenly bodies speaks to primal parts of us. Viewing astronomical events whispers to primal concerns — who are we, why are we here? You know, existential concerns like that.
Observation of the Venus transit helps answer some of those concerns by addressing the questions - how big is the galaxy?, and what else is out there?
As stated earlier, observation of transits has helped establish fairly precise units of distance measurement. An even more thrilling thought — transit technique might conceivably used to discover exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system!
By noting differences in light from stars outside the solar system, astronomers have found and may continue to find planets approximately the size of Jupiter! — TJD, GMA News
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